Andrew J. Sciascia
If you have spent even a semester here at UMass Lowell, chances are you have also heard of – or from – the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG).
MassPIRG representatives and members are well known around campus for invading classrooms to shamelessly preach their policy platforms and ask for student support and membership on a semi-annual basis. If any of that sounds familiar, they have probably hijacked more than one of your classes and, as they often do, ranted and raved for far longer than the five minutes the professor granted them to make their pitch.
In short, MassPIRG is a not-for-profit political interest group that engages in “grassroots” political organization and advocacy related to a number of hot-button policy issues – and chances are they collect $11 dollars out of your UMass bill each year in order to do so.
On their website, where they describe themselves as a “nonpartisan,” statewide “advocacy organization working to win concrete victories on social issues,” MassPIRG proudly claims that it works with and for young-adult students by “standing up to powerful interests.”
Unfortunately, the vast majority of that is a patent and boldfaced lie.
In fact, MassPIRG is about as “nonpartisan” and “grassroots” as the National Rifle Association or Planned Parenthood. The key difference being that those organizations make it abundantly clear which side of the aisle they go to bat for – and the university would never allow them to solicit money from you in your Student Information Service (SIS) account twice a year.
So, who is MassPIRG? To answer that question, a brief history lesson is in order.
MassPIRG is the third oldest state-level Political Interest Research Group in the nationwide PIRG grassroots advocacy system which is topped off by the parent organization U.S. PIRG.
The PIRG model finds its roots in a 1971 book written by Ralph Nader and David K Ross entitled ‘Action for a Change: A Student’s Guide for Public Interest Organizing.’
‘Action for a Change’ covers the creation of the nation’s first PIRGs in Minnesota and Oregon and serves as a manual for students who seek to aggressively organize on campus and canvass in support of radical – traditionally left-win – environmental, business-related and social policies.
Shortly after the book’s publication, Nader and Ross teamed up with Democrat Congressman-to-be Toby Moffett to create the Connecticut Citizen Action Group (CCAG) – a group that compulsively canvassed for more progressive policy on climate change as well as a transition to universal healthcare.
Nader would go on to make a number of high-profile, third-party presidential runs with nominations from parties including the Green Party, the Vermont Progressive Party, the Reform Party and the Alternative Socialist Party.
All the while, Nader’s PIRG system was taking root nationwide in a big way, and it was the perfect springboard for future Democrat politicians.
Recent President Barrack Obama has on numerous occasions referred to himself as a “PIRG man.” Obama often credits the PIRGs with giving him his start in political organizing when he was fresh out of college and well-trained in the Saul Alinsky school of progressive advocacy a la ‘Rules for Radicals.’
Today, these PIRGs – the brain-child of left-wing environmentalists and social Democrats – establish chapters on campuses nationwide, subsidized by student activity fees, to work idealistic student activists to the bone on campaigns to overturn Citizens United, battle climate change, eradicate voter ID laws and establish ranked choice voting.
Does this still sound like a nonpartisan organization?
Worse still, the PIRGs are undoubtedly lying through their teeth when they claim to be “Standing Up to Powerful Interests” too.
Despite the organization’s self-described is “grassroots” style, they are incredibly well connected and well-funded. Influence Watch reports that both U.S. PIRG and MassPIRG had, in the year 2015, annual budgets and expenditures totaling more than $1 million and possesses more than $7 million worth of physical assets.
Hardly a surprising number. In fact, it is likely a low one when you consider the fact that MassPIRG alone has chapters on all four UMass campuses and nine others throughout the state. UMass Lowell’s Office of Student Affairs informed the Connector this past week that in 2018, more than 11,000 students were billed with less than 300 waiving the fee.
Ergo, MassPIRG took in more $141,000 dollars from our students alone in the last fiscal year.
Not to mention the fact that Charity Navigator rates U.S. PIRG with just two out of four stars in the fields of accountability and transparency – despite one of their policy items being budget transparency in politics – and just three stars in finances.
When it comes down to it, the PIRGS are a carbon copy of every other special interest group in America today – connected, well-funded and pushing a partisan agenda.
Though is unlikely that many in our readership falls on the conservative end of the political spectrum alongside me, the assertion that a blatantly partisan political organization should not be so tightly connected to our student finances should not be a contentious one.
All this is not to say that MassPIRG is an entirely meritless organization. I fully support their efforts to feed food-insecure students and engage students politically by registering them to vote, and they should have a place on this campus. But they should be funded in the same way other clubs and organizations are: without their own special fee. Or at least with a fee that one opts into, not out of, each semester.
I strongly implore the readers to vote in favor of defunding MassPIRG in the Student Government Association elections this April.